The phrase motorcycle profiling has appeared in the news at least three times in the last five days.
The term came up twice in press coverage about a couple of photo opportunities in Austin, Texas over the weekend. The bikers were members of the now Bandidos-free Texas Confederation of Clubs and Independents. They were there to show their support for a couple of bills that will make life safer and easier for motorcyclists in the Lone Star State. One of them would permit Texas bikers to split lanes at very low speeds in traffic jams and the other would permit bikers to make safe left turns at red lights – as if the lights were only stop signs.
But most of the attention went to a Texas law that hasn’t been written yet – a law that would forbid “motorcycle profiling.”
Motorcycle profiling is a comparatively new term – borrowed from the more commonly argued concept of “racial profiling.” Motorcycle profiling is a kind of stereotyping. It is assuming that someone must be a criminal because he is riding an American motorcycle with a V-Twin engine or because he is wearing real or ersatz motorcycle club insignia. The argument against profiling assumes, usually correctly. that police have an implicit bias against people who look like bikers.
That biker look itself has become a commodity. A quick trip down to the nearest Harley dealership can prove that. And, it can be argued that profiling occurs because police feel challenged by bikers – because men who look like bikers tend to be libertarian alpha males – and very many cops feel free to use their police powers to dominate and harass men who are not particularly impressed with symbols of authority like badges. At its core “motorcycle profiling” is about social control. And there are very many people who see biker profiling as a civil rights issue that can fixed by passing some laws.
One of them is Will Dulaney, who last Sunday identified himself to the press as the president of the Hell on Wheels Motorcycle Club at a rally in Round Rock. Four hundred people were there so the world could see they were mad as hell and not eager to take it anymore. “If you wear a patch, you better have some bail money,” Dulaney said.
“This is not about one club. This is not about what happened in Waco two years ago. This is about what’s happening all over the country and here in Texas. Profiling is really getting to epidemic levels,” Dulaney told Austin television station KEYE. “We are absolutely the people who are having these civil liberties trampled upon – our right to associate, our right to congregate, our right to ride our motorcycles free and unfettered,”
Ron “Bone” Blackett of the Texas COC&I told KEYE he thinks people died at the Waco Twin Peaks in May 2015 because of motorcycle profiling. “They can’t stand here with us and celebrate the healthy side of all of this, and that hurts,” Blackett said.
The next day, Steve “Dozer” Cochran, a member of another bikers rights group called US Defenders, complained to television station KVUE about being stopped and harassed by police. “They’re not going to give you a ticket one, but what they do is make you undress and take pictures of all your tattoos. They want to know what motorcycle club you’re in, what you’re doing and where you’re going. And first of all, that’s none of their business.” Cochran told KVUE the harassment has gotten worse since the Twin Peaks biker brawl.
The most surprising statement about motorcycle profiling came yesterday from the American Motorcyclist Association, It is surprising because the AMA invented the rationale for biker profiling. Shortly after the Hollister motorcycle “riot” in 1947, E.C. Smith, the Executive Secretary of the AMA called the Hollister bikers “outlaws” and asserted that they represented only “one percent” of the motorcycling community at most. Young bikers everywhere took to the romantic term “outlaw” and liked to think of themselves as “one percenters.” Within a year, police in Riverside, California had coined the acronym “OMG.”
Eventually that one percenter, outlaw style came to epitomize everybody on a Harley. The style became a commodity for hustlers as diverse as Harley-Davidson Motor Company salesmen and FX television executives to sell. Yesterday the AMA renounced the stereotype it helped create 70 years ago.
“The American Motorcyclist Association Board of Directors has adopted and issued an official position statement objecting to the profiling of motorcyclists by government agencies, including judging riders on their chosen apparel, mode of transportation or associates, rather than specific behavior and actions,” a press release announced.
“The American Motorcyclist Association has long advocated for the rights of motorcyclists and the motorcycling lifestyle,” the 209 word position paper begins. “The AMA, in diligently scrutinizing government policies directed at motorcyclists, is concerned over motorcyclist profiling. This includes motorcycle-only checkpoints and what is a predisposition in many cases of law enforcement officers targeting motorcyclists solely because they are wearing motorcycle-related clothing.”
“The AMA strongly condemns the profiling of motorcyclists by government agencies and has long championed the undeniable fact that the vast majority of riders and enthusiasts are upstanding, law-abiding citizens. Motorcyclists and motorcycling enthusiasts represent the full range of Americans and should be judged on their specific behaviors and actions, not their chosen mode of transportation or association with others.”
The only constants in history are irony and change. The world keeps turning.